What happened when I found out I had breast cancer? Well, let me see. It felt like I’d taken a huge punch to the gut. I thought I might have dodged that one, but no, here it was: breast cancer. I walked around in a state of disbelief for a day or so imagining that it was someone else’s mammogram mistaken for mine. But it was mine. I was diagnosed with Stage 1 Ductal Carcinoma in late 2015, right after Breast Cancer Awareness Month and right after my annual mammogram. It was almost Christmas, and I was pretty much in shock.
On my care team:While my diagnosis occurred in another city, I knew immediately, based on the seriousness of it, that I would obtain a second opinion in New York City at Weill Cornell Breast Center. My partner works at Weill Cornell and he helped me consider that as my best option for treatment.
My surgery and oncology team at Weill Cornell, Drs. Simmons and Cigler, provided an amazing amount of support both physically and mentally. They communicated with each other and with me so that I knew, at all times, exactly what was going to happen next and what was my outcome at each stage. Their confidence and experience made me feel that I was being guided in the best possible way. I even had free yoga sessions available to me at the Breast Center and via phone to ease the stress and exhaustion during my treatment.
What I didn’t yet know is that the Chief of Breast Cancer Surgery at Weill Cornell, Dr. Rache Simmons, is trained in the techniques and enabling technology of Hidden Scar Breast Cancer Surgery. In fact, I didn’t even know such a technique existed. I thought only of mastectomies in association with breast cancer, and I was very frightened. The fact that Hidden Scar Breast Cancer Surgery existed changed what could have been an even more traumatic experience into one that gave me hope, even considering the chemotherapy, hair loss, lumpectomy, and radiation.
What I wish I knew when I was diagnosed and what I would say to any other breast cancer patient are these five things:
- That HER2 positive breast cancer treatment can follow many different treatment protocols depending on the experience of the surgical and oncology team treating you.
- That I could as for or inquire about Hidden Scar Breast Cancer Surgery by name.
- That breast cancer is not so much about the threat of cancer as we think.
- That I could let myself be private about my illness, but yet when the time was right, to seek support from my most trusted friends and family.
- That I could give myself permission to take the time to heal without making any excuses for myself.
I think of myself as a survivor of life and yes, hopefully, as thriving. Although, “thrivership” can be intimidating to those who don’t feel like they are thriving much. We all go through life the best we can given the circumstances we are dealt. And, what we have within our power to do for ourselves is to find the best advisors and mentors to assist us when we need help.
If I have one message for women in general, it is to say, “It’s OK to ask for help.” Going it alone in life’s darkest moments can be so frightening and so limiting. As far as recovering from breast cancer goes, I don’t know that I have yet. The way I think about it is, “So far, so good.” I am optimistic but realistically aware that things can change. I am lucky to have a trusted team of advisors and mentors nearby. And, I am happy to help anyone else understand how to build a similar team.